“It won’t make a difference.”
“There’s no choice for the young person.”
“I don’t know the issues and an ignorant vote is more dangerous than a non-vote.”
The excuses are out there, and expressed every time there’s an election.
Statistics show that, without fail, the younger the eligible voter, the lower the percentage of voter turnout.
According to Elections Canada, in the 2011 federal election, the 18- to 24-year-old group had the lowest estimated voter turnout of any age group (see accompanying graph), at 38.8 per cent. The 25- to 34-year-old age group was the only other category below the 50 per cent plateau (45.1).
One local movement is working to change that.
We, The Voters is targeting the 18-30-year-old voters and working to reverse the trend of staying away from the polls this federal election.
Courtenay Coun. David Frisch is one of the people behind the campaign. He said the idea of drawing the young voters to the polls was one that he and fellow first-term councillor, Rebecca Lennox, championed in their respective campaigns for the 2014 Courtenay municipal election.
“We realized that they were one demographic that wasn’t really taking part in the process and we sort of committed ourselves to getting more of them out,” Frisch said.
Both campaigns were successful.
Frisch had the most votes of any of the 13 candidates running for position of city councillor in the election.
Lennox finished fourth.
Frisch said that while there was a personal agenda to the focus in the 2014 municipal elections, this time it’s more about the big picture – simply activating the young vote.
We, The Voters does not align itself with any one party. It’s not about painting the town blue, orange, red or green. It’s about changing the landscape of the voting demographics. The same Elections Canada graph shows that people consistently become more interested, and active, in politics as they age.
The goal of We, The Voters is to level the voting field, so to speak; to get the young vote up.
“We all align ourselves with different parties, but we all agree that we want to see full representation,” said Frisch, speaking on behalf of those behind the We, The Voters movement. “We have a wide age span helping with it. We have some people in their 20s, some in their 30s, there might even be some in their 40s. We are all just coming together and working on it.”
There are similar movements happening throughout the province and the country.
One of the common complaints from young voters is that the issues do not pertain to them, and that the government doesn’t care about what they want.
“We feel like our votes don’t matter,” said 19-year-old Tianna Franklin. “The government doesn’t take into account our issues. You will see the candidates go to old folks homes; they go to places where middle-aged folks go. But they aren’t at universities. They don’t try to be relevant. And honestly, most young people I know don’t identify with any political parties.”
It’s the proverbial vicious circle.
Political parties pander to the masses. They know who votes and who doesn’t and they form their platforms around the demographics that are most likely going to produce votes. As long as the younger age-set is not voting, the parties won’t focus on the youth. As long as the issues remain alien to the young set, they will stay away from the polls.
Franklin is bucking the trend and is urging others in her age group to do the same.
“I’ve got my boyfriend committed to vote – I’m working on my two roommates to vote. I’ve been talking about it with everybody,” she said. “If we don’t vote, why do we have the right to complain about what’s happening in our country? We might as well just live in a dictatorship if we just choose to say nothing.”
“I think we all believe in democracy, but feel it doesn’t work unless everyone takes part,” said Frisch. “What we see right now is a lot of young people who don’t think there’s any point in voting. We think that young people see the system as not serving them in too many ways, which may or may not be true – but they have decided that since it’s not serving them, they aren’t going to take part.
“Our message is that it can serve you better if you take part and become active.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Matthew Bowen said he has participated in every election he has had a chance to, but he has always spoiled his ballot. He said this time, he will select a candidate, although he understands the mindset of others his age.
“Politicians are generally older and I don’t think new adults have ever found these politicians can empathize with their world and ideas,” he said. “We don’t see a grey-haired suit as being a representative of the world we want to make. Also, young people don’t earn as much as the older demographics so the income tax coming off their cheques isn’t always a big deal. We have less to lose in a sense. It’s pretty obvious that someone losing $500 off their cheque as oppose to $70 is going to be a little more vocal about where that money is heading. I don’t think the 18-34 demographic has a lack of ideas or passion with regards to politics, at least not in comparison to any other demographic. I just think they have always felt those seeking power are not a part of their reality.”
Amanda Ridgway has been in Canada for 11 years, but this is the first federal election in which she has been eligible to vote, as she is now a Canadian citizen.
She said, as a follower of politics, it was frustrating to be unable to vote, but she did whatever she could to be involved with the process.
“I’ve paid a lot of attention – I volunteered for city council doing committee work in another community, in the interior. I was very politically active, but I could not vote. That’s why I got my citizenship – to vote.
“Politics affects our everyday life. When we get up in the morning, when we go to work, we try to put food on our table for our families – it’s all glued to politics. That’s how it is for me. That’s why I want to vote.”
We, The Voters had a public event on Thursday in downtown Courtenay, with the environment as the evening’s topic. It drew roughly 40 people, with three-quarters of them qualifying as “young voters”.
Red Tree Specialty Coffee (2456 Rosewall Cres.) will host the next public forum – a film and discussion on climate change.
We, The Voters is also hosting a Courtenay-Alberni riding all-candidates forum Oct. 6 at the Courtenay Legion.
Carrie Powell-Davidson (Liberal), Gord Johns (NDP), Glenn Sollitt (Green) and Barbara Biley (Marxist-Leninist Party) have all confirmed their attendance.